Monday, April 06, 2009

Making their own decisions

Ms. Anna Hill lives is the Dolphin Heights community down the street from my house. She is the president of her Neighborhood Association. What I like about Ms. Hill is that she holds to her standards. She doesn't compromise them based on how much money a group or individual wants to give. If they are in line with the community's mission, she accepts. If the aren't, she declines.

Sometimes, she's a one-woman show. It can get frustrating, but Ms. Hill understands she can't give up. Saturday she organized a community clean up. Below is the Dallas Morning News account of the event.

Thanks, Ms. Hill, for being an inspiration. I want to be like you when I grow up.

Woman's cleanup efforts renewing Dallas' Dolphin Heights neighborhood
Sunday, April 5, 2009
By DAVID FLICK / The Dallas Morning News

As she waited Saturday for the Dolphin Heights Neighborhood Cleanup Day to begin, Anna Hill prepared sloppy Joes, counted out work gloves, talked on her cellphone and kept an eye on the front door of the community center for volunteers.

"I count five this morning," she said. "We need more. But we'll work with what we have."

Hill, the strong-willed president of the Dolphin Heights Neighborhood Association, has worked with what she has for five years in this modest area just east of Fair Park – with promising results.There were 59 reported crimes in the neighborhood last year, down from 84 the previous year and 103 at the peak in 2005.

Dallas police Cpl. Sandra Obaze, who has been assigned to work with the neighborhood association, gives Hill much of the credit."She keeps an eye out for anything that's going on, and she alerts us by calling," Obaze said. "And believe me – if she sees something, she will call."

Besides the falling crime rate, Dolphin Heights residents note with pride that land for a community garden has been secured, that several developers have promised to build affordable housing and that ground is scheduled to be broken on a senior center next month.

Working alongside the cleanup volunteers Saturday were employees of several municipal departments, including code enforcement."I called down to City Hall yesterday, and I wasn't very nice," Hill said. "So they're all here."

Hill has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. Once predominantly black, it is now largely Hispanic. But the changes have gone beyond ethnicity.

When Hill arrived, she said, Dolphin Heights was a family-oriented neighborhood of small, neat homes. Many of its residents walked to work at the Schepps Dairy plant on the north side of Haskell Avenue, returning home for lunch.

During the 1990s, soon after her husband died, she said, the original residents left, died or were placed in nursing homes. Their children moved to the suburbs.The owner-occupied houses were converted to rental property. Crime, especially drug-related incidents, increased.

When her grandchildren, sitting on her front porch one day, were exposed to the sight of someone across the street shooting up, she decided she had had enough.

"I owned my own house, so I was more or less stuck," she said. "But I thought that if I was going to live here, I wanted it to be presentable."

In August 2004, she and some other neighbors decided to form a crime-watch group."We had a meeting, and they elected me president because I did the most talking," she said.

Their first goal was to target drug dealers, an activity Hill continues to this day."They know who I am, and they know I take pictures. They know if I look at them, they need to move on to somewhere else," she said.

Does the 68-year-old, 5-foot-tall widow ever fear for her safety?"I pray. That's all you can do," she said. "But I'm not scared. It's like a dog running after you – if you let them know you're scared, they'll bite you.

"Today, all but the most elusive dealers are gone, she said.The Dolphin Heights community center is in a former drug house. Hill hopes to use it for a children's reading program this summer.

This fall, she wants to offer etiquette lessons there for neighborhood kids.

Esmerlinda Contreras, one of Saturday's volunteers, said she's noticed the difference since moving to Dolphin Heights two years ago."There used to be prostitutes here," she said. "You'd hate to look down the alleys because you never know what you'd see. But it's better now. It's safer for kids.

"Private donors, many of whom have asked to remain anonymous, also have stepped forward to help the neighborhood, Hill said. One such donor purchased the land for the community garden, she said.

"We're not just sitting around waiting for people to give us a handout," she said. "We're doing things for ourselves, and that makes people want to come in and help us."
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